The 40th Anniversary of the War on Drugs

Today is the 40th Anniversary of Richard Nixon’s Declaration of the War on Drugs. Coincidentally, it comes on the heels of declarations by international and British commissions that the War has been a miserable and costly failure. Over the last four decades, the War on Drugs has killed tens of thousands of people, imprisoned hundreds of thousands, and inflicted severe damage on family values. It is long past time that we declared defeat.

In theory, the War is already over. The Obama Administration’s “drug czar” said so over two years ago. But as this recent report by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition shows, the reality has not matched the rhetoric. On the ground, the federal government continues to wage the war as aggressively as ever. The administration hasn’t even kept the President’s 2008 campaign promise to stop prosecutions of medical marijuana users in states where medical marijuana is legal. Instead, federal prosecutors have actually escalated prosecutions in such states.

It would be silly to saddle the present administration with the sole blame for a policy that has continued for forty years. President Obama does, however, have an unprecedented opportunity to do something about the problem. Public opinion is more favorable to legalization efforts than ever, with 46% in favor of full legalization of marijuana. Majority opinion isn’t ready for full legalization across the board. But it would likely support, or at least tolerate, significant steps in that direction. Much good can be accomplished by a president with even modest political courage.

The Obama Administration does deserve credit for cutting back on the War on Drugs in Afghanistan, which had previously severely undermined the War on Terror. It is not too late for the president to demonstrate similar good sense and courage with respect to the War on Drugs here at home.